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Jacques Rousseau lectures critical thinking & ethics (University of Cape Town), and co-authored “Critical Thinking, Science and Pseudoscience” (Springer 2016).

There are many things I won’t mention here. If you choose to assume what my views on those things are, go ahead, but if you choose to do so, please realise that you’re simply rolling the dice.

One of those things is speculation regarding the motivations of those who are laying much of KwaZulu Natal and parts of Gauteng to waste in the days following the imprisonment of President Jacob Zuma.

Jane Duncan’s piece in Daily Maverick is an excellent analysis of failures in governance — especially in the intelligence services — that led to this point, and Richard Poplak…


Helen Zille’s new book, #StayWoke: Go Broke aims to tell us why “South Africa won’t survive America’s Culture Wars”. I read it out of some strange sense of obligation, and perhaps intending to write a review. A short version of the comments below is the one-line review that first came to mind: the book doesn’t say enough to merit any attention.

This isn’t to say the book is not interesting, but probably not for the reasons Zille would hope for. It captures all the stereotyping, superficial analysis, and conservative paranoia that those of us who keep an eye on South…


The author of “The Psychology of Stupidity”, Jean-Francois Marmion.
The author of “The Psychology of Stupidity”, Jean-Francois Marmion.

A friend recently asked me to review Jean-Francois Marmion’s book, The Psychology of Stupidity, for her radio show Book Choice (that’s the podcast link — my bit starts at 39m50s).

As it happened, I was reading the book in any case, so happily agreed to provide the requested 3 minutes of audio commentary. For those who prefer reading to listening, the text is posted below.

The Psychology of Stupidity

Jean-Francois Marmion is a French psychologist who published Psychologie de la connerie in 2018, and the book is now available in English translation (Penguin Books, 2020).

A title like The Psychology…


While this isn’t as egregious a case as the News24 “news” (rather than opinion, or whatever) article on lockdown protests in Muizenberg was, the problems with Daily Maverick‘s piece on a new court challenge regarding right-to-die legislation extend beyond the clickbait headline, and merit brief comment. (As a disclaimer, I contributed columns to Daily Maverick between 2009 and 2013.)

The headline tells us that Atheists go to court over right to die, and the first paragraph speaks of how “an atheist advocate and doctor” have joined the case. …


Nobody will be surprised to read that journalism leans toward sensationalism in terms of topics chosen for coverage, how topics are covered, and (especially) the headlines chosen to represent that coverage, seeing as the headline is what makes people click through to (maybe) read the story.

In case you aren’t aware, the author of a newspaper article almost never writes the headline for their article, so when you see “Sarongs see off stun grenades as Capetonians defy beach ban“, roll your eyes at the subeditor rather than the author unless otherwise informed.

The article itself, though, carries the byline of…


Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa’s President) reinstated a ban on the sale of alcohol at both restaurants and retail outlets on December 28 2020, and that ban is still in place today, with an end-date to be determined by the whims of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Two background points: South Africa has a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We drink a lot, and we die on the roads a lot, whether behind the wheel or stumbling into oncoming traffic. …


To make my biases clear at the outset, I’ve been appalled at how Donald Trump has been fomenting racism, sexism, and political polarisation ever since he ran for office (he was doing so before, but in a less impactful way).

Last week’s invasion of the Capitol was one of the more depressing events I have witnessed, in terms of what it said about our species and our commitment to rational debate and communal welfare, and because of how it highlighted the extent to which Trump (and others) are willing to exploit trust and violate norms of decency for personal gain.


The scenes from the Capitol yesterday, where the process confirming Biden’s status as President-Elect was disrupted by protesters invading the Capitol, made for sad viewing. As do many of the responses to it, immediately as well as nearly a day later.

I say this not only for the obvious reasons, such as how predictable this sort of event was, or how bewildering it continues to be that a US President can encourage these events (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) without being removed from office, but also because I fear that far too many people believe that Trump’s departure from the White…


Liberalism has always meant different things to different people. I tried to describe what its fundamental principles are, for me, almost exactly five years ago.

Re-reading that piece, the phrase “I’m by and large a ‘classical’ liberal” stands out, because it wasn’t true then, and is absurd now. At that point, I suppose I thought there was more room for social liberalism in the “classical” camp than seems to be the case now.

Anyway: liberalism has been an unpopular and oft-derided political framework in South Africa for as long as I can remember. …


Readers of a certain age (in this case, I suspect this means anyone over 30 or so) will remember that there was a time when nobody started an email with the sentence “I hope this finds you well”.

Sometime in the last 5 or so years, some evil cabal has decided to tell secondary school pupils — and even (theoretically) fully-hatched people in the workplace — that all emails have to begin with this sentence.

My problem is not simply with the sentence itself, though I certainly have problems with it, as I shall tell you. The problem is also…

Synapses

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